A Berea-based organization has joined the Sierra Club’s Cumberland Chapter and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in the vocal opposition of a proposed $776 million coal-burning power plant in Clark County that serves many Madison County residents.

Aside from environmental concerns, the construction of the plant would result in high capital costs for the co-op which already is in weak financial condition, according to a release issued Tuesday by the three organizations, including the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF) based in Berea.

They commissioned a study recently completed by Tom Sanzillo, senior associate for TR Rose Associates Inc., which is a New York-based consulting group.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC), a generating and transmission cooperative utility with 16 member distribution co-ops, serving customers in 87 Kentucky counties, plans to build and operate a 287-megawatt, coal-fired power plant called Smith #1 in Clark County.

The proposed plant is the result of an expected customer expansion for EKPC that seemed to justify the Smith #1 power plant proposal, but that customer expansion never came, according to Elizabeth Crowe, director of KEF.

“The Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Kentuckians for the commonwealth and the Sierra Club are opposed to this facility because of the inherent threat it brings to the health of the people of Kentucky, and the degradation of the air, land and water,” Crowe said. “We also feel this power plant is unacceptable because it will financially burden the co-op and its customers at a time when people can least afford it.”

Sanzillo’s report reinforces that the proposed coal-fired power plant is not a good idea.

“Over the years, our association has carefully tracked energy trends and practices and the financial situation of many investor-owned and cooperative utilities like EKPC,” he said. “Based on the co-op’s current financial weaknesses, it is clear to me that EKPC should abandon the high-risk, high-priced Smith #1 power plant, and instead benefit itself and its customers by investing in clean energy options.”

Sanzillo highlighted in his report that approximately 97 percent of the electricity that is being controlled by a cooperative is from coal-fired power plants.

“That’s a very deep dependency on coal in comparison to the rest of the country, where it’s about 50 percent,” he said in a Tuesday teleconference.

Some recommendations in Sanzillo’s suggest that the EKPC: “... abandon its plans to build the Smith #1 plant, cut its losses and move forward with less risky and less capital intensive investments, including energy efficiency, renewable energy and natural gas generation; protect itself and consumers by requesting a rating from the nation’s credit agencies and together with the Kentucky Public Service Commission, should broaden the scope of the management audit EKPC is currently undertaking. ...”

Fortunately, EKPC can continue to provide electricity to its customers without the Smith #1 plant, Crowe said.

“We also pledge to continue to fight the power plant proposal in order to protect our communities from the damage this facility would cause,” she said.

It is not just the environmental protection groups who are concerned, it is also the customers.

“I am concerned as a rate payer that I, as well as other co-op customers have seen our electricity rates climb sharply in recent years,” said Berea resident Mike Hannon, a retired inspector and supervisor for the Kentucky Division for Air Quality and co-op utility customer. Kentucky’s rates have been lower than many places in the country and some of these increases are necessary. But, I also believe that the lower rates have led us to become wasteful and less energy efficient than we can be. What’s troubling is that EKPC is making decisions that will unnecessarily raise costs by sinking millions into a facility that we may not need, instead of investing in safer renewable energy alternatives and by eliminating waste through conservation policies.”

Those concerns were echoed by Suzanne Dansereau, a Clay County resident and co-op customer familiar with the difficulty many eastern Kentucky residents are having paying their utility bills.

“EKPC’s plan to build a new coal-fired power plant is both expensive and bad, as it ignores the reality that carbon dioxide will soon be regulated and taxed in some way,” she said. “The already burdened people of south eastern Kentucky should not be asked to pay for taking what is obviously the wrong fork in the road to our energy future.”

For more information about the proposed plant, visit www.kftc.org/rightdecision or www.stopsmith.org.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 624-6608.

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